A Travellerspoint blog

On the road to Oaxaca

sunny 23 °C

This is one of the many, many breathtaking views we enjoyed on our drive from Taxco to Oaxaca. This is also a toll road, and worth every peso it cost to travel almost eight hours (about $40). Most toll roads, not all, but most toll roads are a superior choice when you just want to get from A to B without frazzled nerves and a punctured tire. Many free roads, on the other hand, are a delight, and take you to all the backroad sights that you would otherwise miss. However, last year we took the free road from Cuernavaca to Oaxaca, and a trip that should have taken 7 hours took 11 hours, and gave us enough backroad sights to last a lifetime.

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This time around, we knew we were in for a long day, and we knew we would be driving through two cities and would get lost in at least one of them. We sailed through Cuernavaca just fine, but got lost in Puebla. Our sons worry about our sense of direction, and wish we would opt for GPS, but seriously that is not always an advantage in Mexico. It turned out well, though - we got a sneak peak at a very interesting city, and when we realized we were lost, we pulled over and stopped in front of a media college, where we met a charming English-speaking young man, who soon pointed us in the right direction. As he put it, "Puebla is a cool city", so we look forward to visiting in February when our friends Joy and Oscar will be there.

Back to the virtues of the toll roads - they are often in much better condition and they usually have guardrails right in the spot you would most like to see them.

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We re-discovered the practical application of creating a "third lane." When there are just two lanes, and paved shoulders, the rule is for slower vehicles to straddle the shoulder and allow faster vehicles to pass right down the middle. It is a much-appreciated mechanism for keeping traffic moving safely and efficiently on twisty roads.

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We arrived in Oaxaca in a state of great anticipation. It is one of our favourite places - we have friends there, the food is phenomenal, the art and architecture is stunning, it is ringed with mountains and has a soft and beautiful light, and while there are loads of gringos, it is still a very Mexican city.

We will be staying here for two and a half weeks, and in an effort to stick to our budget of $120 a day, we chose an inexpensive casita through Airbnb that looked very modest but had good reviews. We were greeted by a charming young woman who led us to the casita in the back of her parent's home, and it was nothing like the photos. A long, dark and dingy little building with windows facing a back wall, no cross-ventilation, no fan, shabby furniture, and no fridge (as promised). We tried not to show our disappointment, but as we had a better look around, we realized we couldn't stay there. The bathroom was filthy, with a previous guest's toothpaste and soap, a dirty glass, one dirty towel, floors throughout dusty and unmopped, and some clothing (including underwear) left in one of the drawers. It was clear the place had not been properly cleaned after the last guest (or ever). We moved the two single beds together, only to discover a small dish on the floor filled with rat poison pellets. My skin was crawling by now, and even though I took the rat poison to the young woman and she came back to clean the bathroom and sweep the floor, we decided we had to go. We let them know we weren't happy and that we might not stay and we scooted around the corner to the posada we stayed at last year. Luckily they had a room, so within a half hour we were moved out of the casita and into the posada. What a relief - until we discovered that we would only be getting about $225 back (out of our almost $600 advance payment), due to the cancellation policy set by the host. We sent off a strongly worded letter to Airbnb, and our refund has improved slightly. We'll wait until we get our refund in the bank and then pursue it further - not sure if it will be any use - in our haste to get out of there, I did not take photos, which might have helped our case. We're annoyed and a little wary of Airbnb now, but at this point we have some perspective. Our friend Jan's friends are stuck in Guadalajara with a blown transmission, which makes our little mishap look piddling.

Our new home - Posada de Los Angeles

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It's early winter, and I was wondering if there would be any flowering trees or shrubs yet. Although the Jacaranda (gorgeous purple flowers) trees are not yet in bloom, the city and countryside is still filled with colour.

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An interesting tree with hanging "beads".

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I love how Mexicans use everyday objects to create quite ingenious works of art. I almost believe I could do this at home.

Kitchen whisks are slipped over small bulbs to create pendant lighting.

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The ever-popular use of pallets is an effective showcase for plants, either indoors or out. In this case, each large succulent is planted in a plastic child's sand pail.

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At the entrance to an art gallery, these plastic crates act as lampshades.

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Things I know I can't do at home? Almost all of this art, street and otherwise.

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I love people watching. Mexico obliges beautifully - take a nation of expressive people, mix them all together in cafes, zocalos, churches, or pedestrian streets, and watch what happens.

Even little girls get their boots shined.

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We walked through a market and this man had his music cranked and was just givin' 'er. I caught his eye and start dancing along with him, and that was all the encouragement he needed.

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We stopped to watch this woman weave. Stephen asked her how long it would take to make this runner and she said two days. Imagine that - two days work and she might make $10 or $15 profit.

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And finally - food. It is hard work to eat badly here. Oaxaca is known for its cuisine - the markets are outstanding, the restaurants are so varied and fabulous and there are a number of esteemed cooking schools.

I'll leave you with a few market shots. Restaurants, cafes, comidas, chocolate, coffee are all to follow in upcoming blogs.

We ate roasted grasshoppers - chapulines; a Oaxacan speciality. They are sold in markets - thousands upon thousands of them in one stand after another. Who picks them? Cleans and roasts them? It's a mystery. They're good - a bit crunchy and well- seasoned.

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Moles (mole-ays) are another Oaxaca specialty - complex sauces flavored with spices and chocolate, in varying strengths of heat.

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We're off to Spanish lessons tomorrow, trying very hard to find a way to communicate beyond the basics.

Hasta pronto!

Posted by millerburr 18:30 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

Way too much colour!

by Bruce Mason

lovely photos and sounds like the adventure has had some crazy turns already!

by kathryn molloy

Love reading your adventures with my morning coffee.
Ann

by Ann Sapingas

Great to see your photos of OAX. Too bad about the airbnb but keep at them for a full refund. It does happen apparently. A friend who has used them quite a bit has concluded from his experiences that airbnb really doesn't care that much about integrity of the reviews it posts and probably censors all but the most mild criticism of its clients (ie the owners). So using it is hit and miss. Ojala que ustedes se disfruten mientras que en Oax y enceuntren un lugar agredable por su visita. Tengas suerte con sus estudias. Podemos charlar en espanol este verano.

by jon

Sorry about your casita, hope we have better luck with ours.
The pictures are lovely, the light in Mexico is amazing. Have fun with your Spanish classes , and looking forward to seeing you in Feb.

by Joy reeves

I, too, am sorry to hear about your casita experience but the shot of Stephen sitting outside your posada looked lovely. I loved looking at the pictures you took of the markets; although, I think I will pass on the roasted grasshoppers!

by Heather

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